Category Archives: The turf trade

The Lady of the Shannon

Folk interested in early steam transport in Ireland may wish to know that the latest issue [Vol 41] of The Other Clare, journal of the Shannon Archaeological & Historical Society, has an article, “Mr Paterson’s steamer”, about the Lady of the Shannon, the steamer built on the Clyde in 1816 for James Paterson of Kilrush.

While the steamer and its operations are well known (see for instance the page by Senan Scanlan on the Clare County Library site), a lack of contextual information has meant that the scale of Paterson’s achievement is not widely appreciated. His steam boat was built only four years after PS Comet, Europe’s first commercially viable steamer, began operations on the Clyde. Paterson, who built baths at Kilrush at the same time as he acquired his steamer, may have intended to imitate Henry Bell’s operations.

At the time, most steamers operated on rivers and estuaries, but some undertook longer delivery voyages to new areas of operation in Britain and Europe. But Paterson’s may have been the first to brave the rigours of the Atlantic: it probably travelled west off Ireland’s north coast, and then down the west coast to the Shannon. Ensuring that coal was available along the way must have required a good deal of planning.

Commercially, Paterson’s steamer was not a long-term success, and the possible reasons for its failure are explored briefly in the article.

The Shannon Archaeological & Historical Society does not itself appear to sell its journal online; Scéal Eile Books in Ennis may be able to supply it by post, as may the Celtic Bookshop in Limerick.

Who stole the technology?

I was thinking of buying a (secondhand) copy of Juliana Adelman and Éadaoin Agnew eds Science and technology in nineteenth-century Ireland Four Courts Press, Dublin 2011. But, even though the secondhand copy was much, much cheaper even than the publishers’ reduced price, I thought I should check what I’d be getting for my money. I therefore had a look at the contents list, which I reproduce here having nicked it from the publishers’ web page:

The list of contents

 

Is it just me, or is there a big gap there? How can you discuss nineteenth-century technology without an extended discussion of steam power, whether in ships, on railways, for drainage or in mills and other manufactories?

 

Up the Inny

The navigation of the River Inny from Ballynacarrow upriver to Lough Sheelin.

Quadrupling Kerry’s canals

I thought there was only one canal in Co Kerry, but there were three more at Lixnaw. They’re still to be seen and they have interesting associations.

Thanks to Ewan Duffy of Industrial Heritage Ireland for the tip-off.

Transport history

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution quotes an interesting extract today from a new book on the history of India:

…the most important technological change for the transportation of heavy goods in nineteenth-century India was not the arrival of the quick, expensive railway: it was the move from pack animals to carts pulled by two or four beasts in the first half of the century.  This was the process historian Amalendu Guha calls ‘the bullock cart revolution’.  Throughout the 1860s and 1870s railways found it impossible to compete not only with bullock carts, but also with human-powered river transport.  Rowing boats along the Ganges and Jamuna won a price war with the railways over the cost of transporting heavy goods.  Vessels powered by human beings were able to undercut steam vessels elsewhere.

There is a description of the book (which I have now ordered) here.

How did transport in Ireland compare? In the first half of the century, road transport using Scotch carts dominated carrying. Within about 55 miles of Dublin, eastward of Mullingar on the Royal and Tullamore on the Grand, canal carriers did little business except in the heaviest goods: the Scotch carts, each drawn by one horse and carrying about one ton, dominated the trade. But the Scotch carts relied on there being good roads, which in many cases required government intervention of one sort or another.

But rowing boats do not seem to have been serious contenders on Irish inland waterways. They might have been used on the Shannon, to tow canal boats, and the idea was mooted, but nothing seems to have come of it. The problem, I suspect, was that there was little or no trade: when it did arrive, it did so because the steamers created it. And the capital cost of a large pulling boat might have been beyond the means of a small-scale entrepreneur who might have been able to afford a cart.

On the other hand, vessels powered by sail retained certain markets, including traffic across the Irish Sea, until the middle of the twentieth century.

Much about Irish transport history remains unclear to me.

Irish waterways in context

More than 25,000 barges were being used on Britain’s inland waterways in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Philip S Bagwell The Transport Revolution from 1770 B T Batsford Ltd, London 1974

I wonder what the figure for Ireland was. My guess is that, including small turf boats and cots, it was probably less than one tenth of the British figure.

Horses for towing? Bullocks!

The Colthurst canals.

Shannon Estuary murders

Limerick, May 16. Piracy

About six weeks since, a most daring act of piracy and murder was supposed to have been committed in Mr Parker’s turf-boat, which was lying at anchor near Ahanish, in this river. Tuesday, in consequence of private information, a search was made on one of the islands convenient to where the vessel lay at the time of the piracy, where the three unfortunate men who composed the crew of said boat were discovered in a pit, with their throats cut from ear to ear, their heads and bodies much lacerated, and a large rope bracing them together. The anchor, cables, and parts of the rigging, were found secreted in another part of the island.

Evening Mail 29 May 1818. From the British Newspaper Archive run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.

Dublin canal murders

At an early hour yesterday morning, in consequence of a dispute between the people belonging to some of the turf boats on the Grand Canal, two young men, citizens, and one of a couple of the military who went to their assistance from the Canal Guard, were murdered, having been thrown into the Canal. Several persons have been taken up and committed to prison.

Saunders’s News-Letter 15 May 1804. From the British Newspaper Archive run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.

Limerick floods 1814

Limerick, Dec 1

On Thursday night, or at a very early hour on Friday morning, the most awful and terrific tempest from the south and west, that ever was remembered arose, and continued without intermission until between 11 and 12 o’clock yesterday — the river Shannon swelled to an unprecedented height, with a surf which caused it to overflow the country to an extent never before witnessed; there was no trace of the highest banks upon the river, and they are broken and prostrate every where we have as yet heard of — at the quays in this harbour, the several vessels drove from their moorings, and a large Norway ship, the Pax, a brig, the Caroline, and a sloop, the Elizabeth, were forced beyond Curragour Mills, near Thomond bridge, and with much exertion were saved from injury, by Mess Mallock and Graham, ship builders, with their men — the Messery, of Liverpool, at O’Neil’s quay, laden with rock salt, is thrown on her beam ends.

The falling of chimnies has caused several houses to be unroofed; Mr Bodkin’s family, in Bridge Street, were providentially saved, as the next chimney fell on the roof, which was blown in, destroyed the different rooms, and though a child slept in the attic story, and went through the two under floors, it was unhurt. Several trees have been torn up, garden walls blown down, and the whole of the parapet, from the House of Industry to the Revenue Building overturned. A new house in Glentworth Street was completely levelled with the ground. Thomond-bridge miraculously withstood the flood; the whole bridge was covered at one time, and the parapet presented the appearance of a wall built across the river.

We really fear that the accounts from the coast will be dreadful. Yesterday morning, between eight and nine o’clock, two sail boats were lost between Foynes Island and Ahanish, one was loaded with butter, and had nine passengers, all of whom were drowned; the other a turf-boat, the property of Mr O’Keefe, with three men on board, one of whom (Hurley) perished, and the other two were driven on shore by the violence of the waves, and were saved.

On Tuesday evening a large boat belonging to Denis Malcahy of this town, was driven on the rocks, off the shore of Kilkeran battery, the tide at the same time setting in with such rapidity that the boat filled with water, and one of the crew threw himself overboard and swam ashore, leaving two men and a boy on the wreck; when in this awful moment, one of the workmen belonging to Messrs Mackey and Ryan, plunged into the water and swam to the boat — made a raft of her oars and spars, to which he fastened a rope, and swam off to the length of it — the remaining crew clung round the raft, and in the presence of a number off shore, were towed in, and thus saved from a watery grave. Thomas Gleeson, a mason, was the person who so humanely ventured his life to save that of others, which Providence enabled him to effect.

Caledonian Mercury 24 December 1814. From the British Newspaper Archive run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.